By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) –
 With the way the Cubs are currently constructed, do you honestly believe they’ll compete for anything besides at best a .500 record in 2015?

If you’re like me, you have real trouble buying into that idea.  Entering this offseason it’s a question that the Cubs need to be honest with themselves about in regards to how they construct their roster.

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Those who think the Cubs can realistically compete in 2015 believe Kris Bryant and Javier Baez will spend at least part of the 2014 season at the Major League level – a season that seemingly promises to be again spent in the National League Central cellar.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it would mean relying heavily on young men who will be 23- and 22-years-old, respectively and playing in their first full big league seasons come  2015.  As nice as it is to think they’re the next Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or Yasiel Puig, to expect them to make the instant impact that any of those three made is simply unrealistic for either – let alone both.  That’s not to suggest that either or both won’t go on to long big league careers that see them play in multiple All-Star games, but assuming they’ll instantly adjust to Major League pitching and fielding in their first full seasons is just insane.

If you’re not going to compete until 2016, then it only makes sense to find a buyer for Jeff Samardzija this offseason.  It’s nearly impossible to believe what he’d bring back in return would ever be higher than it is right now and for a team that’s still a couple of years from realistically competing, that remains the utmost importance.

At best Samardzija appears to be a No. 2, but more likely No. 3 starter in a strong pitching rotation.  Sure, either isn’t the easiest thing to replace but even more difficult than that is landing a possible ace.  Yes, that’s what the dream once was for Samardzija but things haven’t panned out and it’s incredibly unlikely that a guy who will be 29 this Opening Day ever reaches that potential.  So then why hang on to a probable third starter who will be 31 and up for another contract by the time the Cubs realistically compete again in 2016?

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Of course if you’re going to deal Samardzija you have to find a partner and you don’t just deal him for the sake of dealing him as bringing back potential star talent remains the key.  As much as some see Samardzija as a disappointment to date, he still has very high value and any deal should bring back very highly regarded prospects as a result.

Think back to how happy the Cubs organization and most of their fans were in July when Matt Garza was sent to the Rangers for prospects Mike Olt, C. J. Edwards and big leaguer Justin Grimm.  Olt’s vision/general skills remain in question but Edwards has risen to be ranked as the Cubs third best current prospect according to Baseball America.  Yes, it’s a farm system that’s weak in starting pitching but it was a major addition in exchange for a rental starting pitcher who made 13 starts in a Texas uniform.

Or think back longer to what the Cubs originally gave up for Matt Garza. Wouldn’t Chris Archer look good in a Cubs uniform right now?

Now imagine what an equally-talented pitcher who is a year younger and regularly healthier than Garza,  and whose contract is under control for two seasons should bring.  Samardizja being arbitration-eligible the next two years also makes him a much lower risk investment than David Price, the former Cy Young Winner who will demand a massive contract extension before being dealt by the Rays.

The way the firing of Dale Sveum and the eventual hiring of Rick Renteria went down left many (and understandably so) believing Theo, Jed and Co. don’t have the same grip on the organization that they were once believed to.  But with the Diamondbacks, Nationals and Blue Jays all having very solid farm system starting pitching and appearing to be in the talks for Samardzija, an even stronger organizational foundation could be built before pitchers and catchers report in mid-February.

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Nick Shepkowski is a producer and weekend host at 670 The Score in Chicago.  You can follow him on Twitter @Shep670.